Mike Wallace: Behind the Scene
Saturday, April 7, 2012 the American nation lost a giant in the field of journalism — Mike Wallace. Wallace, a brilliant writer and reviewer of the social, political and economic changes in the United States, created a field of journalism that focused on tough questions and direct answers.
However, while he developed a new “school” of journalistic inquiry, he is better illustrated in the quest for social and racial equality.
In 1958 Mike Wallace, than a local reporter for New York’s CBS and Louis Lomax a Black reporter created a four part documentary entitled, “The Hate That Hate Produces” that shocked the comfortable white citizens of the nation. The expose revealed that there was a movement among African-Americans that rejected the concept of integration and white Christianity, but accepted a complete foreign ideal to whites that a sizable population of the African-American caste believed in race separation, Black Nationalism, and a unique brand of Islam. The group—The Nation of Islam, said Mike Wallace, “has been growing among the [African-American] masses since the 1930s. They have their own department stores, restaurants, apartment complexes; and we [whites] did not know anything about them.” The documentary indeed changed Wallace’s career; his life.
While doing the documentary Wallace became friends with one of America’s greatest and controversial figures—Malcolm X. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Malcolm X was the National Spokesperson for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was the face of The Nation of Islam. He spoke in a manner that was quite different than civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. Malcolm was bold, defiant, aggressive as Wallace said to me of Malcolm, “he laid it out; he made it plain.”
Now, for most whites and many Jews, whom Wallace identified by ethnicity, Malcolm was a demon, a black racist, a terrorist. But, for Wallace—he was a victim of American racism and brutal treatment towards African-Americans. He found that Malcolm had lived the American nightmare like many other Black Americans. His father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan; siblings partitioned by the state’s Department of Family Services; mother driven insane by the taking of her children; home destroyed by a racist mob of Night Riders; and discouraged by a white teacher from having aspirations of going to law school by telling a young Malcolm, “that niggers don’t go to law school; why don’t you become a carpenter? Jesus was a carpenter.”
Wallace, understanding the difference between “meaning and rhetoric,” set out to use his position in journalism as a vehicle for social change. Between 1958 up to Malcolm’s death in 1965 Wallace and the Black Muslim became close friends. In fact, after the assassination of the Muslim leader Wallace aided the leader’s widow, Betty Shabazz and family with financial support. Unknown to most, Wallace was the God father of Malcolm’s children.
In the 1980s and the 1990s Wallace worked diligently in bridging the gap between The Nation of Islam and various radical elements of the Jewish community. He, unlike many journalists today, believed that tough and frank dialogues are the vehicles for the creation of an egalitarian community. Yes, he was tough; but more so thoughtful. Well Dr. White how do you know these things about Mike Wallace?
Mike Wallace was my friend. He was the first person to read my book in manuscript form — Inside the Nation of Islam. We spent hours on the phone before we actually met in person. When we did meet at his CBS office in New York he treated me, not as a young underpinning assistant professor, but as a man of dignity and substance. He advised and counseled me on various topics. He openly talked about his bouts of depression and travels to places such as Moscow and small villages in Haiti. For several years we communicated frequently until his health took a turn towards the heavens.
Indeed, Mike surely will be missed. My hope and prayers now focus on journalists and writers who will follow the true spirit of Mike Wallace. That is, use your position to better society and not to destroy the fabric and trust of the community.
Dr. Vibert White
The Intellectual Thug